The Discipline of Judgment

Agreeing to every step of life

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Life is what happens within.

In a sense, we agree to everything that happens. Our worlds are of our own creation. At each moment we choose how to respond or react. Each decision determines the character of our life.

An exercise in acceptance commitment therapy illustrates this idea. First, hold your breath for a period of time. Continue even if it becomes uncomfortable. Notice what arises. Then relax and breathe.

Then do so again, but this time imagine that you’re willing every sensation that arises into existence. Whether it’s pleasant or painful.

It’s a simple shift but a profound one. Note how this changes your experience. Then, again, relax and breathe.

The next step is to realize that, in both cases, you will every sensation into existence. After all, if you did the exercise, you chose to hold your breath. Is this not so for most of life?

If you don't get what you want, it's a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.

Rudyard Kipling, An Unqualified Pilot

Just so, the core of the Stoic discipline of judgment involves seeing things as they are. As sensations and events arrive, we play an essential role in determining their meaning. In Stoic terms, we choose whether to assent or agree to our impressions. The breath-holding exercise shows that how we use our powers of assent matters and can shape our experience profoundly.

This doesn’t mean we can come up with any story – there is an objective reality that must be respected. The Stoics advise simply this: pursue the truth. Do not add unnecessary value judgments.

By cultivating skillful judgment, we respect Nature and cultivate an inner citadel.

🎯 Action

As you go throughout your day, pause, and bring to mind one of these questions:

  • Am I seeing the world as it is?

  • What, if any, unnecessary value judgments am I adding?

  • Am I agreeing to what is happening, now?

🎺 Stoicism Applied – The Course

Michael Tremblay and I are officially opening enrollment for our live course this Oct-Nov!

In it, we’ll take a deep dive into all three Stoic disciplines, including the discipline of judgment. It’s for anyone looking to seriously become more Stoic with others.

🔗 Resources

📗 A perfect illustration of the discipline of judgment from Epictetus:

‘His ship was lost at sea.’

What actually happened? The ship was lost.

‘He was taken off to prison.’

What actually happened? He was taken off to prison.

But to say that this has been bad for him is an additional judgment that each individual makes for himself.

Epictetus, Discourses 3.8.5

📖 Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is not a Stoic book, but its central metaphor is fruitful. Life is shaped by what we agree to. Make your agreements thoughtfully. The very first agreement is properly Stoic: tell the truth & be impeccable with your word.

All of humanity is searching for truth, justice, and beauty. We are on an eternal search for the truth because we only believe in the lies we have stored in our mind. We are searching for justice because in the belief system we have, there is no justice. We search for beauty because it doesn’t matter how beautiful a person is, we don’t believe that person has beauty. We keep searching and searching, when everything is already within us. There is no truth to find. Wherever we turn our heads, all we see is the truth, but with the agreements and beliefs we have stored in our mind, we have no eyes for this truth.

Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

💬 This line takes on new meaning once we consider the power of our judgments:

Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

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